Dogs and Recall
By Stan Rawlinson
Recall with the Gundog
With regard to training issues rather than behavioural problems, I am asked to correct recall more than any other problem, especially with working and gundog breeds. We are told that some breeds are un-trainable or that they can never be trusted off the lead. Beagles fall into this category, as do some of the Terrier breeds. I do not subscribe to this myth I believe all dogs can be trained but only up to their inbred ability
Border Collies are supposed to be the most intelligent of all the breeds, but surely, intelligence is relative. I doubt if anyone could train a Collie to win a field trial championship or a Labrador to win One Man and His Dog.
The problems we see with some of the hunting retrieving breeds is that instinct takes over, that instinctual trait reduces some of the senses, the one that is often detuned or switched off is hearing.
We imagine our dogs can always hear us clearly, that it is selective deafness or stubbornness that is the cause of dogs ignoring recall commands. In actual fact genetics often takes over, without early counter conditioning we cannot cut through the desire to hunt to initiate the recall.
We also show this behaviour. Imagine you are watching a brilliant wildlife or shooting program, then someone starts talking about shopping, we hear the sounds but often do not understand the content. Our brain has detuned it out; we are not being rude or ignorant (though try telling the OH that,) the brain is genetically hard wired to react this way.
However if we were specifically trained to react to an audible cue/signal rather than words then we would shift our attention to the person emitting that signal much more readily.
I am sure we have all read the books or been told we should not start training our dogs until six months or in some cases a year; that is totally incorrect. Dogs learn more in the first 16 weeks than the rest of their life. It is at this time that dogs are at their most receptive, they soak up information and experiences like sponges.
Often, we introduce whistle commands far too late in the puppies training cycle. Starting pups very young on the whistle for recall and the sit pays huge dividends, yet we often do not take this opportunity. Introduce the whistle as early as possible by associating exciting and pleasurable experiences very early on, even whilst still with the mother. Pups will readily respond to the recall whistle by seven or eight weeks old. I have seen litters of six-week-old pups scamper to the whistle in excitement.
When puppies associate experiences with the whistle in a positive manner, they will respond positively to their reward of affection, food, treats, or a game, always make the whistle something positive. The same is true of the “sit”. Pups can consistently comply with this whistle command by twelve weeks old. They will eagerly sit on the whistle when the reward is good and the commands are given consistently.
Start by preparing the dogs food and getting someone hold the pup 10 or 12 feet away blow your normal recall and get the helper to release the pup. Extend this by getting your helper to hold the pup in another room and repeating the process.
Allowing the puppy to become more mature before introducing the whistle is not conducive to a good recall response in later life. At six-month-old, pups pay little no heed to their owners recall commands, making the training more difficult. Likewise, once the pup has developed in basic training and is charging in hard on retrieves, whistle controls are much more difficult to introduce.
Imagine that your dogâ€™s brain is a CD. Written to that CD are the breeder and their family the mother, siblings and any other dogs the breeder has. Then you and your family There is nothing on that CD that says if he runs away; it will be far more interesting than staying with you. So leave off the extendable lead the dogs not going anywhere it will stick like glue to almost your every move. The first time you take your dog into the big wild world, which should be as early as possible, you should let him off. Make sure you pick a safe place without too many distractions or other dogs and their should be plenty of trees.
Now what is vitally important is that the dog gets a slight feeling of anxiety when he cannot see you. Move upwind, then whilst he is distracted, quickly hide behind something, like a tree or a fence, he will eventually look up and start to panic, allow this to happen for a short while, he will eventually run around and hopefully pick up your scent and find where you are hiding. When this happens, make a big fuss and give a treat.
If he does not find you fairly quickly blow your whistle and show yourself, praise and treat when he runs up to you, a valuable lesson will have been learned. He will not think you have hidden but will think you have gotten lost; this will instil the need to keep you in view at all times.
These initial reinforcements are critical, however if you want to use you dog to pick up in later life you can introduce the ethos of track and retrieve out of sight, but with tight recall when necessary.
Call your puppy to you and put the normal lead on three or four times during every walk, then he will not learn that the lead means end of walk ie end of fun. We have all seen the dogs that dance around 5/6 feet from their owners at the end of the walk, they have actually taught the dogs this frustrating habit by only ever putting the lead back on at the end of the walk.
Rectifying Recall Problems
If you are already having recall problems then you need to go back to basics you will need to initially practice the sit stay command at home.
To set this well the dog should be on a lead preferably 5 foot long with a Jingler â€œsee my website for this deviceâ€ Get the dog to sit with the dog on your left side holding the lead in you left hand. Using the cupped palm of your right hand bring it to the dogs nose saying â€œStayâ€ three times. Swivel in front of the dog so you are facing it pick up the loop of the lead but make sure you keep your left hand on the lead as well, this is your control hand, slowly back up to the length of the lead with the left hand about as third of the way back up the lead.
If your dog moves or tries to follow, lift the lead upwards with your left hand and say â€œStayâ€. This will activate the Jingler, Keep repeating until you think the dog has the message, then start dropping the lead and moving further backwards. If your dog starts moving, you have gone too far to fast, therefore shorten the distance again. Do this about three times a day for about five minutes per time.
Practice this till you can move 100 feet away without the dog moving then after a couple of days call your dog to you every third time, use either the Whistle, Come, Here or his name. Only treat the best stays and the best results.
Once you feel you have mastered this, it is time to use the lunge rein. Practice the sit stay in the park or field but this time with the 35 foot horse lunge rein; take a friend who will hold the dog whilst you hide behind a tree or fence then call the dog, when he finds you give him a favourite treat and repeat the exercise.
After a couple of days allow the dog to walk free but with the lunge rein still kept on dragging behind, keep standing on it at different lengths whilst issuing the recall command, so the dog thinks you are in control at all distances.
If the dog takes off after a bird or another dog; either stand on the lead or pick it up to stop the charge. The dog will get the message that you are in control and cease chasing after a while. During all of this work, we must give the dog lots of praise and treats. After a few weeks of keeping the lunge rein on you can reduce it down by putting on a normal lead then after a few more weeks remove it completely.
As always, the best strategy for training is to set your dog up to succeed and to not condition in a problem that will have to be rectified later on in the training.
Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer, who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with gundogs then moving to the behavioural and obedience side of training companion dogs. He now has a successful practice covering Greater London, Surrey, and Middlesex.
Stan is recommended by numerous Vets, Rescue Centres, and Charities. He writes articles and comments on behavioural issues and techniques for dog magazines including Our Dogs, Dogs Monthly and K9 Magazine and Shooting Times.
He is also the founder member of PAACT The Professional Association of Applied Canine Trainers
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